Wichita Federal judges in Wichita have had to help out in New Mexico, which doesn't have enough judges to hear all of its illegal immigrations cases.
J. Thomas Marten and Monti Belot have been sitting in on federal cases in Las Cruces, N.M., to hear immigration cases which, two years ago, surpassed drugs and weapons charges as the most prosecuted crimes by the U.S. government. The judges estimate that immigration issues take up nearly half their criminal dockets.
Brent Anderson, who prosecutes immigration cases in Kansas, has also witnessed the flood of cases along the Rio Grande, while helping out at the U.S. attorney's office in El Paso, Texas.
"At the border you have to see it to believe it, and if you don't see it you don't believe it," Anderson said. "But it's not just at the border anymore. It's now in the interior of the United States, and it's increasing."
Immigration cases have also nearly doubled in Kansas the past three years, and continue climbing, Anderson said. He estimates half of all criminal cases in Wichita's federal courthouse include defendants who are illegal immigrants. They're accused of illegally working in the U.S., or transporting illegal immigrants or coming back after being deported. They also face drug and weapons charges.
"That tells you there's something going on in our society," Anderson said. "And that is, law enforcement is spending half of its time investigating foreign nationals illegally in the United States. That means those resources aren't available for other things."
Chicago lawyer Taher Kameli said immigration cases probably will continue to increase in Kansas and states to the south.
A graduate of Washburn Law School, Kameli formerly worked for the Shawnee County district attorney's office in Topeka. Now, he travels across the country practicing what he calls immigration criminal defense.
When judges Marten and Belot head southwest, they face what some local judges and lawyers call "the rocket docket."
"The last time I went there, on my first day, we picked five juries," Marten said. "We started at 9 o'clock in the morning and went until 8 that night. We had four trials over the next seven days, and we had a jury left for the next judge coming in."
Nationwide, a federal judge can expect to handle 87 felony cases at one time.
With such a crunch on the courts, efficiency is crucial. Pre-sentence reports are prepared well in advance and prosecutors and defense lawyers must work together to arrive at a fair plea deal for the defendants.
"I feel, and I think everybody down there feels, justice is done," Belot said. "Even though the volume is greater, and people are moved through the system faster, every attempt is being made to treat the people reasonably."